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ASU professor’s new book asks: Are animals really in revolt?

March 1, 2022

Ron Broglio examines the modern human-animal relationship

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to linger and we approach World Wildlife Day on March 3, many scholars among the Homo sapein variety of animal have found themselves pondering more than usual the relationship between themselves and their non-human counterparts.

ASU English Professor Ron Broglio is one of them, and his new creative nonfiction book “Animal Revolution” takes a hard look at real-life incidents of animals crossing boundaries between their world and humans' – from reports of radioactive boar invading towns to jellyfish disarming battleships.

And it couldn't be more timely.

"If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything," the book jacket reads, "it is that we should pay attention to how we bump up against animal worlds and how animals will push back."

Broglio shared his intentions for the audience and his thoughts on the ways we can improve our complex relationship with the animal world.

Portrait of ASU English Professor Ronald Broglio.

ASU English Professor Ron Broglio

Question: Can you explain what nonhuman phenomenology is and how it relates to your book, "Animal Revolution"?

Answer: Phenomenology is how we carry ourselves in the world; another word is comportment, basically how we negotiate space. Every little detail is a constructed cultural element. It also has to do with our shapes, and our bodies, and how bodies move in the world. 

Animals have that as well. They have differently shaped bodies, different sense organs, different ways of being in the world. Both in terms of being four-legged versus two, vertical versus horizontal, sense of smell versus sense of sight. Because we are sight-oriented, we skip over a lot of what is happening with the other senses. 

It made me realize that animals live on the same Earth we do, but they’re in different worlds. Their sense perceptions are different. Their way of thinking about their surroundings is different. A lot of the book is about the tension between a shared Earth, but separate worlds.

Q: What do you hope readers will gain from this book?

A: Several things. The largest is that there’s a world outside of us. Humans and animals are on shared Earth. We live in different worlds and we are on shared Earth. We need to make room for them.  

We are animals, too. If we listen to that part of us, to recognize the current culture is to distance ourselves from the Earth. If we instead listen to parts of us that really call to being engaged with the Earth as animals, then we become more sympathetic to the world around us.

Q: You collaborated with Marina Zurkow of the NYU Tisch School for the Arts to produce the illustrations for the book. How did she come to work on the book and how did her artistic style contribute to it?

A: She almost has a surrealist take on the stories, and takes them in another direction. And that’s what good art does; it doesn’t just come illustrative in a simple sense, but it creates a sense of wonder. I’m very interested in the power of non-verbal representation as pictures. I like the storybook style. I’ve known of Marina’s work for a very long time. She works on ecology, and she’s well-known for these kinds of surreal or magical takes on the world around us. Moving between the magical and the actual. 

Are the animals actually in revolt? That’s sort of the poke at humans. It seems like it. It’s a reframing of actual events to make us think about larger questions. Her art also reframes the stories to point outside to a curious world around us.

Animals have done their job, my job is to report it in an interesting and provocative way, and Marina layers on top of that.

Q: In a perfect world, what does the relationship between humans, animals and our environment look like?

A: ASU has a Center for Biodiversity Outcomes ... Biodiversity means not just the major species have a space, but secondary and tertiary. All the different layers of species. The reason we need that abundance is that in hard times, a lot of things will be lost and a lot of species and animals will be lost, but the abundance is the fat that allows us to thrive in those times. 

The idea is facilitating a world that accommodates more than humans. How are we accommodating bats? How are we accommodating bees? You can make spaces where these animals can thrive and dwell. In those cases, there’s no interference. In cases where there is interference, we can change our technologies to help.

Q: As a professor of animal studies, how have you seen ASU contributing to conservation efforts to support the local environment?

A: ASU, even on campus, is an interesting test lab because it’s an arboretum. We have some of the national leaders and national labs. 

For example, bee studies. I just found out that Arizona has more bee species than anywhere in the Americas. I am actually leading a project now that is making pamphlets about different desert animals to get it out to college students and grade (school) kids and to the general public to become aware of animals around us and how cool they are.

Q: What are some changes we as humans can make in our everyday lives to form a better relationship with animals and our environment? 

A: Notice all the animals around us, and then think of your own landscape or your own area and say, "How can I make this more hospitable?" By taking care of the local, which is the only thing you can kind of control in some ways, then that extends a certain sympathy to a global concern. 

We often think about what we need, but birds need flyway spaces. Are we making flyway spaces? Butterflies who migrate here, they need milkweed. Is there milkweed around? There’s really basic elements of other worlds, and all the sudden, the world we live in becomes richer in texture.

Catch Broglio reading from his new book, “Animal Revolution,” at The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York City, Saturday, March 24. The event will be simulcast via Zoom starting at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Top photo: Illustration by Marina Zurkow for Ron Broglio's book "Animal Revolution."

Lillie Boudreaux

Student reporter , ASU News

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Imagination project helps student veterans see their future more clearly

March 1, 2022

Professor hopes to extend pilot program to vets in Valley

It was early January when the three students in Arizona State University's Veterans Imagination Project pilot program got together to talk about the first week of class. What, they wondered, had they gotten themselves into?

“We all met up outside and said, ‘What the hell is going on? What are we talking about?’” said Erik Villegas, who spent five years in the Marines, about himself and fellow students Brian Neal and Nick Davies.

Their teacher, Bob Beard, was using terms like narrative foresight, futures thinking and collaborative imagination.

Seven weeks later, the students, all of whom are in the Pat Tillman Veterans Center as well, are no longer puzzled. The new initiative from the Center for Science and the Imagination and Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement has helped clarify their future in ways they never would have imagined.

“Thinking about the future is not something that’s new to me, but this course really gave me the tools and the framing and the ways to go about doing it with guidance,” said Neal, who served in the Navy for almost 10 years. “This class is definitely a toolset that has been overlooked and ignored.”

That’s what Beard, program manager for the Center for Science and the Imagination, was thinking several years ago when he was helping companies imagine what their work environment might look like in the next 10 to 20 years.

Beard believed veterans could use the same guidance. He said that while the military expertly prepares young men and women for the job they’re trained to do, it is “perhaps less concerned” about what they’ll do in the next phase of their lives. He noted that his transition class out of the Marines, where he served from 1995 to 1999, was 2 1/2 days — “less time than a long weekend.”

With this class, they can imagine a different future for themselves.

— Veteran Nick Davies

“What we’re talking about is how we’re going to live in the future amid radical change,” Beard said. “We’re training organizations to think about the changes that are on the horizon, so they have sort of a better playbook to have a preferred future. With military veterans, that radical change happens as soon as they get out of the military. They don’t have 10 or 20 years to rehearse for the futures they want. Without having skills in future thinking or foresight or any of these skills these huge Fortune 500 companies use, military members are left feeling sort of adrift.

“So, we thought this was a really good experiment to see if the methods that we use for future thinking and imagination can be applied on a personal level, not just an organizational level.”

Before even taking the class, Davies innately understood the need for it. He was in the Marines for almost five years as a machine gunner and said that unless a military occupation connects to a job in the civilian world, veterans often find themselves taking blue-collar jobs.

“That’s what a lot of my friends have done,” Davies said. “With this class, they can imagine a different future for themselves.”

One of the key components of the class is trendspotting — predicting trends before they hit the mainstream. Trendspotting helped the students understand what their desired occupation might look like in 10 to 20 years. That, in turn, aided the students in determining whether they wanted to follow through with their original career choice.

For example, Villegas long has desired to be a federal agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency. But when he told Beard of his plans the second week of class, Beard asked him what the DEA might look like in 10 to 20 years. Villegas said he had no idea.

That led to discussions about how an agent’s job would change if federal legislation to legalize marijuana was approved. Instead of, as Beard put it, “kicking down doors,” an agent’s responsibility might shift to auditing commercial marijuana growth houses.

illustration of DEA agent walking through rows of marijuana plant

California artist Ray Lopez created artwork for fourth-year public service and public policy student Erik Villegas after learning about his plan to become a DEA agent. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“He (Villegas) was like, ‘That’s a much different role than I would have anticipated before taking this class,’” Beard said.

In addition to using exercises such as trendspotting, the students were required to speak with a mentor in order to get a better sense of changes occurring or about to occur in their chosen field. Neal, who is getting his degree in engineering management with a minor in sustainability, spoke to Braden Allenby, a President’s Professor and Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Their conversations helped Neal understand that as the automobile industry moves away from fossil fuels and toward electric cars, lithium — which powers electric vehicles — would be in greater demand. After some research, Neal found that Nevada has the largest lithium deposit in the country.

“I thought, ‘Well, they’re going to need somebody like me to tell them how they’re affecting the environment around them,’” Neal said.

The final piece of the class was a visual storytelling exercise. The students were put in touch with Hollywood concept artist Ray Lopez, who asked detailed and specific questions about their future career, such as: What does your workspace look like? What are the items around you in that space? How is your personal history reflected in your environment?

With that information, Lopez produced a piece of keyframe art, an electronic illustration of their story.

“They’ve gone from this level of uncertainty to, ‘I’m going to tell you exactly what this environment looks like to me,’” Beard said. “That final piece of art is the crystallization of everything they’ve done in this process.”

“This class did a lot for me," Davies said. "It was instrumental in understanding how my future could look and how I can impact that."

Beard hopes to extend the pilot program to other veterans at ASU and, with funding, offer it to veterans around the Valley.

“Everybody has a right to imagine their future," Beard said. "For those who don’t know what their next step is, this could be a very powerful tool for their toolkit, whether they decide to come to ASU or not. We can use the resources we’ve pioneered at ASU and the faculty and the expertise at ASU to really impact the lives of veterans in our community."

Top photo: California artist Ray Lopez created artwork for second-year business and global policies student Nick Davies of the inaugural cohort of three student veterans at the Veterans Imagination Project at the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, Friday, Feb. 25. Davies imagines himself serving with the State Department, attending hologram-based meetings, which will allow attendees to visit embassies and other locales. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News